The Padres are an example of how quickly things can turn for a team during the footslog of a 162-game season. You can get plenty of rest and eat healthy and take your vitamins, but the danger is constant. Arms will tire. The bat speed will go slow. Bodies will ache. Patience will be exhausted. The schedule can eat you.

Through the end of June the Padres had MLB’s No. 4 overall record at 49-33 and a snazzy winning percentage of .598. They were stalking the NL’s top two teams, the division rivals San Francisco and Los Angeles. At that point the Padres were a mere 2 and ½ games off the pace set by the Giants, and trailed the Dodgers by one. Everything seemed possible: first-place finish, a romp through October, the NL pennant and a World Series triumph that would shake the streets in San Diego’s Gaslamp Quarter.

That was the dream, anyway. As the Padres arrive in St. Louis for an urgent three-game weekend series against the Cardinals, they are tattered and bruised and in need of restoration. The look — and outlook — of the San Diego side is significantly different than in mid-May, when the Padres had a fun, stress-free sweep of the Cardinals in three games at Petco Park.

Since July 1 the Padres are 27-37 and rank ninth in the NL in winning percentage (.422) over that time. As for the NL West the Giants and Dodgers are long gone. The Padres are 18 and ½ games in arrears to the first-place Giants, and lag 17 and ½ games behind the Dodgers.

The collapse has left the Padres lunging for the NL’s second wild-card spot in a late-season cluster with the Cardinals, Reds and Phillies. This weekend’s series at Busch Stadium is right on time. The Cardinals have a chance to reaffirm their lead position in the race. The Padres are counting their baseball blessings, comforted by being down by only one game to the Cardinals after going 10-21 since Aug. 11.

The Padres began to regroup in San Francisco. After starting their 10-game road trip by losing five in a row to the Dodgers (three) and Giants (two), the Padres mobilized to beat the Giants in the final two games of a four-game set.

The overdue respite from losing provided an immediate mood boost for the Padres’ traveling party as they headed to St. Louis for the final leg of their three-city trip.

“We have a happy flight,” said Padres left fielder Tommy Pham, the former Cardinal. “To win the last two here against a really good team is always a good thing. We can take this momentum to St. Louis.”

“We’re excited to get into St. Louis,” manager Jayce Tingler said. “We’re playing a team we’re trailing and we’re fighting for the same thing. What more can you ask for?”

After tangling with the Padres, the Cardinals will have only 14 games left to play — seven with the Brewers, and seven against the Cubs.

A sweep by the Cardinals would put them 3 and ½ games ahead of the Padres.

A sweep by the Padres would put them 2 and ½ ahead of St. Louis.

Should the Cardinals win two of three, they’ll lead the Padres by 1 and ½. If the Padres win two out of three, they’ll lead the Cards by a half-game.

And what happens in St. Louis can impact the Reds (76-71) and Phillies (74-72.) Entering the weekend the Cardinals were just a game above the Reds, with a more comfortable margin of 2 and ½ games over the Phillies.

Here are the remaining schedules:

ST. LOUIS:

3 home vs. Padres
4 at Brewers
4 at Cubs
3 home vs. Brewers
3 home vs. the Cubs
Average record of remaining opponents: 77-69

CINCINNATI:

3 home vs. Dodgers
3 home vs. Pirates
4 home vs. Nationals
2 at White Sox
3 at Pirates
Average record of remaining opponents: 67-78

SAN DIEGO:

3 at Cardinals
3 home vs. Giants
3 home vs. Braves *
3 at Dodgers
3 at Giants
Average record of remaining opponents: 87-58

* In addition to the listed games the Padres will complete a suspended game vs. the Braves. The Padres won the first game of a July 21 doubleheader in Atlanta, but the second game was halted because of a lengthy rainstorm in the middle of the 5th inning and the Padres leading 5-4. The game will resume Sept. 24 in San Diego.

PHILADELPHIA:

3 at Mets
3 home vs. Orioles
4 home vs. Pirates
3 at Braves
3 at Marlins
Average record of remaining opponents: 61-84

As recently as Aug. 10, the Padres were in great shape in their run to the No. 2 wild card. They were 17 games over .500 — and 4 and ½ games up on the Reds, and 8 and ½ up on the Cardinals.

Then it got ugly, with the Padres losing 21 of their next 31 since Aug. 11. Since that day the Padres have averaged only 3.5 runs per game and rank last in the majors in batting average (.213), onbase rate (.292), slugging (.348) and OPS (.641.) Or to put it another way: over the last 31 games the Padres have performed 25 percent below league average offensively in park-and-league adjusted runs created (wRC+.)

And over the same time frame, the Padres’ injury-torn rotation and exhausted bullpen have turned in a 5.18 team ERA that ranks 26th among the 30 teams since Aug. 11. It includes a 5.31 rotation ERA that’s 23rd, and a 5.06 reliever ERA that’s 25th.

San Diego has two starting pitchers on the injured list: Blake Snell and Chris Paddack. But during the season Yu Darvish missed 25 days during two stints on the IL, and his problems continue. Darvish had a 2.44 ERA in his first 16 starts of the season; over his last 11 starts the ERA is 7.67. Moreover, the Padres are without one of their best relievers, lefty Drew Pomeranz. He’s missed 100 days with shoulder and elbow troubles.

To patch the frayed rotation the Padres have picked up “street” free agents Jake Arrieta and Vince Velasquez. They’ll start two of the three games this weekend, with Velasquez going Friday, Darvish working Saturday, and Arrieta set for Sunday.

The two victories in San Francisco gave the Padres an opportunity to reset, and they’ll likely come into the STL series with renewed energy and an upturn in confidence.

“You control your own destiny,” Pham said. “We can go out this weekend and put ourselves in a better situation going forward for the last two weeks of the season.”

There’s added pressure on the Cardinals. They can give the Padres another downward shove — or give the Padres a reason to stand taller. The Cardinals can prove that their recent roll is real — and not a flash that will fade over the final two weeks.

The Cardinals struggled for months to establish consistency and generate an extended hot streak. They went 8-1 during one stretch in August, leveled off, but reheated by winning five in a row (and seven of eight) to go into the San Diego series with a positive mindset.

The Cardinals are 23-14 since Aug. 6 for a .622 winning percentage that ranks fourth in the NL behind the Giants, Dodgers and Brewers. The forward move came after front office added starting pitchers Jon Lester and J.A. Happ, plus relievers Luis Garcia and T.J. McFarland. The improvement was given a boost by lineup adjustments and a reordering of the bullpen by Manager Mike Shildt.

Nolan Arenado, Paul Goldschmidt and Tyler O’Neill are driving the offense. Adam Wainwright is making a push for a share of Cy Young votes. Edmundo Sosa is a delightful surprise with his offense and defense. Tommy Edman won’t stop hitting doubles. Teh eternal catcher Yadier Molina keeps punching out big hits. Harrison Bader controls the air space over center field.

Over their last 34 games the STL pitching has settled in for a 3.34 ERA overall, third in NL since Aug. 6. Over the same nine weeks of ball the St. Louis offense has averaged 4.8 runs per game and leads the NL with a .261 batting average.

Since Aug. 6 Cards hitters also rank second in onbase percentage (.331), second in OPS (.775) third in batting average with men in scoring position (.280) and fourth in slugging (.444.)

The Cardinals have displayed a winning form. For the most part, all facets of the team are clicking. Timely contributions are coming from unexpected sources. The Cardinals haven’t played with this much skill or confidence in a long time.

And you know what? All of this will mean absolutely nothing if the Cardinals choke and can’t close the deal. It’s winning time — or quitting time. A time of no excuses. It is a time for validating the quality we’ve seen. Or a time for pretenders to be exposed. A time to earn respect, or be ridiculed with disdain. It is a time to play hardball. Or a time to drop the ball.

The Cardinals will show us who they are.

Thanks for reading, and I hope you enjoy the baseball and the weekend…

–Bernie

Bernie invites you to listen to his opinionated sports-talk show on 590-AM The Fan, KFNS. It airs Monday through Thursday from 3-6 p.m. and Friday from 4-6 p.m. You can listen by streaming online or by downloading the “Bernie Show” podcast at 590thefan.com — the 590 app works great and is available in your preferred app store.

The weekly “Seeing Red” podcast with Bernie and Will Leitch is available at 590thefan.com

Follow Bernie on Twitter @miklasz

* All stats used here are sourced from FanGraphs, Baseball Reference, Stathead, Bill James Online, Fielding Bible, Baseball Savant and Brooks Baseball Net unless otherwise noted.

 

Bernie Miklasz
Bernie Miklasz

For the last 35 years Bernie Miklasz has entertained, enlightened, and connected with generations of St. Louis sports fans.

While best known for his voice as the lead sports columnist at the Post-Dispatch for 26 years, Bernie has also written for The Athletic, Dallas Morning News and Baltimore News American. Bernie has hosted radio shows in St. Louis, Dallas, Baltimore and Washington D.C.

Bernie, his wife Kirsten and their cats reside in the Skinker-DeBaliviere neighborhood of St. Louis.